The Trans Alaska Pipeline And Findhorn Ecovillage Commerce Essay

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Taken its narrow sense as defined in common talk, development is seen as a state of growth or advancement in a new or changing situation. Under this perspective, the term is usually associated with improvement. This is mainly because the neo-liberal agenda over time has been skewed in order to bestow benefits to small, socio economically advantaged minority (Raaber, Alemany, Schoenstein nd), leading people to believe that all development brought a change for the better. However over time, issues regarding social equity and degradation of the environment emerged from this approach towards development.

Bellu' (2011) explores a broader definition of development as being multi-dimensional in its nature, underlining the fact that any improvement of a complex system can occur in different ways, at different speeds and driven by different forces. Underpinning this argument is the notion that development of one part of the system can be detrimental to the development of other parts, giving rise to conflicting objectives. Moving away from the idea that one size of development across the board fits all, there is a greater need for a holistic approach, paying attention to the interconnectedness of various forms of development such as economic, environmental, cultural and societal development.

Differing views with their theories and methodologies towards the meaning of development provide the framework for paradigms which according to Schuftan (1988) operate by "dictating prescriptions, proscriptions, preferences and permissions" that model our behaviour. The Bretton Woods agreement and later the Washington Consensus, based on protection of capital, economic opening with respect to trade and investment and the expansion of the market, led to a paradigm shift towards neo-liberalism, promoting policies that include privatization, marketization, and globalization (Lefeber as cited in Islam 2009). This dominant paradigm, described by Colby (1991) as Frontier Economics, has as its main tenant infinite economic growth and prosperity based on a strong anthropocentric approach. As a reaction to the negative effects brought about by the dominant paradigm, the 20th century saw the rise of several grass-roots organizations working towards positive societal change, and that brought together people with different worldviews, religions, cultures and nationalities (Drengson, Devall, Schroll 2011). This materialised in a significant change and an emerging paradigm of development, based on a biocentric and harmonious view of the relationship between man and nature.

Development projects.

The two development projects chosen, reflecting different paradigms of development are the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System and Findhorn Ecovillage. The Alaskan Pipeline is a clear example of how the Western model of development based on the dominant paradigm treats nature as an infinite supply of physical resources to be used for man's instrumental benefit, in anyway possible that could improve the material quality of human life (Colby 1991). This development has a high anthropocentric approach where Earth's resources are exploited for the economic benefit of multinational oil companies, who have had a leading role in sustaining the dependence of industrialised countries on the use of fossil fuels. The Alaskan pipeline shows the dominion of man over nature, where risks of spills and the possible contamination of the environment (US Dept. of Interior 2002) were ready to be taken for the accumulation of wealth of the few, and to keep a country economically competitive on the global market.

On the other side, the Findhorn Ecovillage movement started from the spiritual experience of three people, who despite living on unemployment benefit, decided to co-exist in harmony with nature. Joined later by many followers, the Findhorn Ecovillage is a living example of a sustainable lifestyle where the crux is placed on the holistic relation between man and nature, choosing environmental protection over economic growth. Although initially the Findhorn Ecovillage started as a spiritual community, Jackson (2004) explains how every ecovillage tends to gradually integrate other aspects and motivations that fall into three categories, social, ecological and spiritual. Falling within an emerging worldview this type of development places particular emphasis on ethical, social and spiritual aspects that have been downplayed in the dominant economic worldview (Colby 1991).

Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS):

Following an embargo by Arab member countries forming part of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) on oil shipment towards countries that supported Israel during the invasion of Egypt and Syria in 1973, the US faced a major oil crisis that lead to a substantial increase in price of gasoline (Senner 2004). The US, which at the time imported around 35% of its oil from foreign countries, faced what became to known as the 1973 oil crisis. In response, within just four months, the Congress drafted an act, later signed by President Nixon, giving right of way to a consortium of oil companies to build a pipeline that crossed the whole state of Alaska from Prudhoe Bay (North Slope) to the ice free loading port of Valdez.

The work on the pipeline, owned by Alyeska with major oil companies as partners, started in 1974 and was finished in 1977 with a total cost estimate of $8 billion. The pipeline system is made up of pipes having a diameter of 48 inches, running for 800 miles, half of which is buried beneath the ground while the other half rests on supporting structures. The construction phase had to address problems related to extreme cold and isolated terrain, and was the first large scale project to deal with issues of specific construction techniques on permanently frozen ground (permafrost). The pipeline runs across 30 major rivers, 800 smaller streams, 3 mountain ranges and passes through 3 climate zones. Fourteen temporary airstrips and 284 secondary roads were built in order to facilitate the construction of the pipeline, 11 pumping stations, 13 bridge supports and the terminal at Valdez (US Dept. of Interior 2002). The marine terminal at Valdez offers storage facilities for 9.18 million billion barrels of crude oil, which is shipped towards the mainland by a fleet of 26 tankers.

The pipeline can carry a maximum of 2.14 million barrels of crude oil daily. It is estimated that over 16 million barrels of oil have been transported by the pipeline since 1977, with a remaining reserve of 6.1 billion barrels (Natural Resource Defence Council 2011). Today TAPS provides less than 17% of total US oil production. Extraction rate is estimated at 500,000 barrels/day by the year 2015, reaching its minimum throughput of 200,000 barrels/day by 2020 unless additional resources are developed. If this does not happen, Alyeska will have to start closing down its pumping stations gradually until ultimately removing all traces of the pipeline once oil extraction is completed.

Findhorn Ecovillage:

The Findhorn Ecovillage, located in the North of Scotland just off the Findhorn Bay of Moray, started off from a small spiritual community founded by Eileen Caddy, Peter Caddy and Dorothy Maclean. The three, after having their employment terminated, moved to a caravan site nearby the seaside village of Findhorn. Living close to nature, in what Dorothy describes as the ability to intuitively contact the overlighting spirit of plants, they managed to grow vegetables, herbs and flowers on sandy soil in their gardens to sustain their families. Eventually, in 1962 many people started to join in, forming a community committed to the spiritual path of expanding the garden in harmony with nature (Findhorn Foundation Website). In 1972 the community registered itself as a Scottish charitable trust and during its annual autumn conference in 1995, marking a breakthrough for the ecovillage movement (Jackson 1998), the community started calling itself ecovillage and the Global Ecovillage Network was founded to link hundreds of small projects that ran on the same lines (Jackson 2004).

In the early 1980s the community started to work on a series of developments that had the aim of demonstrating how a human settlement can develop in a sustainable way in environmental, social and economic terms. These included the building of ecological housing using stone and straw bales, installation of four wind turbines capable of generating 750kW and enabling the village to have its own electricity grid, a biological Living Machine sewage treatment system, community supported agriculture, solar water heating systems and a comprehensive recycling scheme. Nowadays the village has its own bank and community currency (Findhorn Ecovillage website).

The Findhorn Ecovillage community is now home to more than 400 people and also houses 40 community businesses such as the Findhorn press and an alternative medicine centre. An independent study run by Tinsley and George (2006) concluded that residents at Findhorn Ecovillage have the lowest carbon footprint of any community measured so far in the industrialised world, and is also half of the UK average. September 2006 saw the formal launching of CIFAL Findhorn, forming part of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) Local Development Programme (LDP) to serve as a new sustainable development training facility (Findhorn Foundation website). This facility also acts as a major centre for adult education serving 14,000 visitors a year from over 50 countries (Findhorn Ecovillage website). Various projects at Findhorn Ecovillage have won several awards amongst which 'We the Peoples 50 Communities' by the Friends of the United Nations in September 1995, Best Practice Designation by the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements in October 1998 and the Millenium Marque Award in September 2000 in recognition of the work in helping to restore the Caledonian Forest.

Analytical analysis of the development projects.

The UN Conference on Environment and Development (1992), through the adoption of Agenda 21, affirmed the key role of indicators for sustainable development as an important tool to help measure and calibrate progress towards sustainable development goals. The Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD) indicators are deeply rooted in Agenda 21, with almost all CSD indicators being directly or indirectly correlated to Agenda 21 and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (UN 2007). Consequently the aim is to analyse the two development projects, keeping as development indicators poverty eradication and the four pillars of sustainability, namely preservation of the environment, social justice, cultural vitality and economic health. While keeping these five indicators as indicator beacons throughout the analysis process, the approach to gain better understanding as suggested by Bellu' (2011), is to disentangle development and the development process by analysing the main mutual cause-effect relationship. Thus the primary aim is to identify the root cause of the development process of the chosen projects, and consequently analyse its effect on the remaining indicators.

With regards to TAPS, the main cause of undergoing such a major development project was triggered by the oil embargo on the US in 1973. In the previous 20 years, the oil industry had grew 9 fold and the world produced over 2.5 billion vehicles, half of which in the United States (Wright n.d.). Bollyn (2003) quantifies the cost of the embargo at no less than $900 billion and probably as much as $1,200 billion. America's economy started to dwindle, inflation started to grow with the increasing risk of the country going into a recession. The economic factor pushed aside all the debate and controversy surrounding the development project, giving way to the authorization act intended to give right of way to the construction of the pipeline "without further administrative or judicial delay or impediment" (Clifton, Gallaway 2001). Economic growth needed to sustain the Western model of development was the driving force that pushed the US to construct the Trans Alaska Pipeline to carry crude oil from Prudhoe Bay to port Valdez.

The Findhorn development has its roots in the spiritual approach of three people in their holistic relation to the environment. Through their lifestyle based on cooperation and co-creation with nature, and the conservation and preservation of the natural world (Findhorn Foundation website), led to the birth of a community/ecovillage that shares the same commitment of creating a positive model of cooperative and spiritual living. The starting point of the development is not economic growth but the preservation of the environment, as highlighted by Diane and Robert Gilman's definition of ecovillage as "a human scale, full-featured settlement, in which human activities are harmlessly integrated into the natural world, in a way that is supportive of healthy human development and can be successfully continued into the indefinite future" (Jackson 1998).

Two major effects of TAPS in the cause-effect relationship were the degradation of the environment and a negative impact on the quality of life of native Alaskan habitants. This relationship is described in Agenda 21 as arising from the fact that governments tend to separate social, economic and environmental factors at the policy, planning and management levels (UN1992). A clear example is that although the final Environment Impact Statement issued by the Dept. of Interior included many warnings about the potential for environmental damage, it also emphasized the country's need to increase its domestic oil supply, thus declaring the TAPS project to be in national interest (Senner 2004). The operational history of the pipeline is stained with numerous cases of environmental degradation. For example between 1977 and 1999, 4400 oil spills released 38,000 barrels of crude oil in the environment. These caused land, soil and water stream contamination. Also evidence shows that there has been regional warming over the last 25 years in Alaska and along the pipeline that resulted in the retreat of glaciers and the lowering of the permafrost table due to thawing (Dept. of Interior 2002). Urquhart (1995) explains how although the herds of caribou increased in number and that they manage to successfully cross under the elevated pipeline at a certain age, herds with calves tend to avoid the pipeline corridor and have consequently changed their grazing spots to less developed areas.

The TAPS project has also had societal impacts on the native Alaskans and Alaskan citizens. In 1969, 5 native villages filed a law suit to stop the construction of the pipeline claiming that the pipeline route would pass over their lands. With major money at stake and an urgency to start the project, President Nixon signed the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act which passed 44 million acres of land and paid $963million to the natives. The Secretary of the Interior was given the authority to withdraw land for the pipeline from state and native land claims (Dept. of Interior 2002). However the largest societal impact was the boomtown phenomena in the villages of Fairbanks and Valdez. With the arrival of pipeline workers, the market value of property and land skyrocketed upwards, doubling in a matter of few months. These increases were driven by the high wages earned by the pipeline workers, which in turn induced non-pipeline workers to ask for higher wages that were unsustainable to local businesses. The high wages brought about an increase in prices and a sense of social inequity started being felt. The increased economic turnover demanded for a greater workforce, which was filled by high school students who did jobs for which they were neither qualified nor experienced. To meet this demand the high school in Fairbanks ran on double shifts, morning and afternoon, to cater for students who worked eight hours per day. The increase in population also meant greater demand for goods, with Fairbanks Mc Donalds becoming number 2 in world sales. Also Alyeska and its contractors bought goods in bulk creating shortages of stock for local consumption. Being paid better wages, policemen and troopers resigned to work as security guards for the pipeline, and Alaska experienced an unprecedented surge in crime and illicit activities along the pipeline route. The arrival of the pipeline workforce unfamiliar to Alaska's customs impacted the culture of the rural villages in Alaska. Gould and Bennett (1974) outline how the community at Valdez anticipated the rewards that the pipeline would bring to the village without considering the impact on the traditional life in Valdez. Boston (2008) also outlines how the investment in the big cities along the pipeline left boroughs inhabited mostly by natives more stranded from access to information, healthcare, education and employment, giving rise to varying levels of poverty in different counties.

The cause effect relationship in the Findhorn ecovillage development takes a different route than that proposed in the TAPS development process. Starting from the sacred relation with the natural environment and its preservation (use of renewable energy, permaculture, ecobuildings, sewage treatment), the effect is visible in the social aspect both within and outside the village, with a community that is full of cultural vitality. The Findhorn ecovillage always sought to be a positive model which demonstrated a viable and sustainable human settlement, a sustainable lifestyle not only in environmental, but also in social, economic and spiritual terms (Findhorn Ecovillage website). This is much in line with what Agenda 21 aims to achieve in its Human Settlement Objective which states that "the overall human settlement objective is to improve the social, economic and environmental quality of human settlements and the living and working environments of all people" (UN1992). In 2001, the United Nations Environment Programme recognised the efforts made by the village in the implementation of the local Agenda 21. With a population of around 400 people, the village strives to create social cohesion by providing a deep sense of belonging to the group, where all individuals feel supported, safe, responsible to those around them and empowered to participate in decision making on issues that effect their own lives and that of the community (GEN website). Ross Jackson (2004) explains how ecovillages create holistic social models which are an alternative to the destructive trends of modern fragmented society by offering an alternative to consumerism and centralised social services. The social aspect is extended beyond the village through the association of community supported agriculture that supports a locally based socio-economic model of agriculture and food distribution. Working towards common goals as a community, avoiding disparity between rich and poor, and being a community with a low carbon footprint with consequent reduction in carbon emissions responsible for climate change, makes this ecovillage a prime example of a human settlement that not only sets a practical example towards poverty eradication, but also educates individuals through its sustainable learning centres and various outreach projects related to this issue.

The unification of individuals sharing the same vision but coming from different countries and having different cultures distinguishes ecovillages in shifting the idea of mono culture prevalent modern societies to a multi-cultural settlement approach. The concept of an ecovillage focuses mainly on the idea of unity in diversity (Gaiaeducation n.d.). Miller (2007) notes how the community honours diverse religious and philosophical paths, and its people participate in an endless variety of rituals from many cultures. The final effect was an economic growth of the village through its diversification into more than 60 businesses and initiatives that provide a model of a vibrant, living economy (Findhorn Ecovillage website). Findhorn has created an Industrial Provident Society to permit members to invest in community-owned enterprises and initiatives, raising over a million dollars (Dawson 2006). The revenue raised from the various institutions, like shops promoting fair trade, printing press, educational courses and others, is invested within the community for the benefit of the community itself.

The cause effect relationship discussed above evidences a major difference in the development projects chosen. While the dominant paradigm project sought to seek economic growth for few individuals with resulting degradation of the environment and negative societal impact, the emerging paradigm project achieved economic prosperity for the whole community through environment preservation and social cohesion. The TAPS development places emphasis on just one pillar of sustainable development ignoring issues of preservation of the environment and poverty eradication. The Findhorn project on the contrary finds a balance between the four pillars of sustainable development keeping into focus the objectives laid by Agenda 21.


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